Later today, the House Rules Committee will take up a bill that contains language to weaken the Johnson Amendment. The bill – which includes funding for governmental entities like the IRS, the city of Washington, D.C., and others for fiscal year 2019 – could have profound implications on houses of worship and their ability to remain free from partisan campaign politics.
The Johnson Amendment is the portion of the tax code that prevents political campaigns and candidates from pressuring tax-exempt 501(c)(3) organizations like houses of worship for endorsements. Faith leaders, religious organizations and nonprofit organizations across the country support the Johnson Amendment because the current law allows them to maintain their free speech rights and their ability to speak to political and social issues, while at the same time preventing political candidates from using them as tools for their own gain. Still, members of Congress are pushing to all but repeal this law.
The language included in the bill would weaken the Johnson Amendment by making it nearly impossible to enforce. It would place administrative barriers to enforcement, such as requiring consent from the IRS commissioner, notification to two committees in Congress and a 90-day waiting period. And, even though the Johnson Amendment applies to all 501(c)(3) organizations, this language would apply only to violations by houses of worship, making it likely to violate the First Amendment.
Last month, when the House Appropriations Committee debated the bill, U.S. Representatives Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) and Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) offered an amendment to remove the Johnson Amendment language. The amendment failed on a party line vote, and the Johnson Amendment language stayed in the committee-passed bill.
The next stop before this bill goes to the floor for a vote by the full House is to go before the Rules Committee so that members of the committee can decide which amendments they will allow on the bill. During the Rules Committee debate, Wasserman Schultz will once again offer her amendment to strip the Johnson Amendment language. U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) will also offer an amendment to strike the problematic language.
Americans United has joined a letter along with 144 other organizations that was sent to the committee asking its members to support the Wasserman Schultz and Lewis amendments. If your representative is on the Rules Committee, you can also help – take action to urge your member of Congress to remove the language that would weaken the Johnson Amendment.
Thanks to the advocacy of our members and supporters, along with our coalition partners and allies, we’ve been successful in keeping the Johnson Amendment in place, despite the many attacks to the law we’ve seen over the past year. And we will continue to fight back all attempts to undermine or repeal the Johnson Amendment.